Clean and presses can be great when done right but many people find them hard. Discover a few exercise alternatives with similar benefits.
You can describe clean and presses as an explosive combination of a deadlift, an upright row, a mini front squat, and a shoulder press.
As you can expect from so many movements clean and presses work a variety of muscles including your lower back, erector spinae, glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, forearms, trapezius, calves, deltoids, biceps, triceps, and core.
In turn, that means that clean and presses can help you build muscle mass, burn calories, and offer other typical exercise benefits.
Whether you don’t enjoy clean and presses, you want more beginner-friendly options, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these clean and press substitutes can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
1. Shoulder presses
As the name clean and press implies, shoulder presses are one of the main movements of this exercise. By doing it separately you can focus on specific muscles in a more beginner-friendly way.
For this alternative, you likely need some form of shoulder exercise equipment like kettlebells, a cable machine, a barbell, a smith machine, resistance bands, etc. too.
Once you have one of these, take the following steps to do a shoulder press with dumbbells:
- Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at about shoulder height with your hand palms facing forward. Your elbows can point slightly more forward than just a horizontal line with your shoulders.
- Slowly move the dumbbells up until your arms are slightly less than stretched.
- Lower the dumbbells back into starting position in a controlled motion.
Shoulder presses focus on your deltoids (main shoulder muscle) and triceps. This exercise also works your core to some extent.
If you want to work the other clean and press muscles you will have to choose some of the other alternatives.
One of the upsides or downsides of shoulder presses depending on your skill level and training goals is that this exercise trains your balance and coordination a lot less.
This next clean and press alternative is again one of the movement components done separately. For deadlifts, you typically use a weighted barbell but other weights can work too up to a certain weight.
Take the following steps to do a deadlift with a barbell:
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width in front of a weighted barbell.
- Slightly fold your legs at the knees and tilt your upper body forward to grab the barbell on the ground.
- Tilt back your upper body and stretch your legs in one continuous motion until your upper body and legs are stretched in one straight line. When doing a deadlift it is very important to keep your back in a straight line during the exercise.
- Slowly move back into the position of step 2 by first tilting your upper body forward (with a straight back) and then folding your knees.
If you are new to deadlifts you want to work on your technique before lifting the heaviest weights. Once you have the technique down, you can do deadlifts in an explosive manner to simulate clean and presses more closely.
The muscles you work with deadlifts are mostly similar to clean and presses. These muscles include your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, lower back, erector spinae, forearms, calves, and trapezius.
Three exceptions include your deltoids, biceps, and triceps. To work on these, you will have to choose other exercises.
For this next clean and press alternative you need some form of resistance. Generally something heavier like a loaded barbell. Less experienced individuals may find dumbbells, kettlebells, or similar objects challenging enough.
Once you have one of these, take the following steps to do a shrug:
- Set up the barbell on a rack at a height right below where your hands would be when letting your arms hang down. Load it with the desired number of weight plates.
- Grab the barbell with your hands at about shoulder width with your hand palms facing backward/downward. Unrack the barbell, take a step or two back, and stand up straight with your feet at about shoulder width. For now, the barbell rests against your body. Keep your arms slightly less than stretched throughout the exercise.
- Raise your shoulders as far as you comfortably can in a controlled manner.
- Slowly lower your shoulders again.
The shoulder shrug does not look like the most impressive motion but this clean and press alternative can be great to help you work your trapezius and grip muscles in the gym or at home.
For individuals who want to work the other muscles involved in clean and presses, shrugs are not the right choice.
4. Box jumps
For the next exercise, you need an elevated platform that is strong and stable enough to jump on. An example of a suited object is a quality plyo box.
Take the following steps to do a box jump:
- Stand upright in front of the box with your feet at about shoulder width.
- Bend into about a quarter squat while you swing your arms back.
- Swing your arms to the front again and at the same time jump forward on top of the box. When landing you want to have your knees more or less at the quarter squat again. If you are squatted lower, this may be a sign the box is too high for your current jump level.
Make sure you pay attention to using the right technique to avoid any injuries. For box jumps it is also smart to start with a low height and build up from there.
Being too optimistic about your capabilities can be especially punishing when doing this exercise.
Clean and presses work leg muscles like your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves in a relatively explosive way. Box jumps can help you train these muscles similarly but to a lesser extent due to the lack of weights.
5. Pike pushups
Pike pushups can seem like a weird alternative to clean and presses. In some ways this is the case but there are individuals who want to train their shoulder and tricep muscles at home without any equipment.
Take the following steps to do a pike pushup:
- Sit on your hands and knees on the ground with your hands at about shoulder width.
- Move your hips in the air so that your body makes a triangle together with the ground. You likely have to lift up your heels in the air and lean on the front of your feet.
- Slowly fold your arms at your elbows until your face is close to the ground. Your upper arms should be at an angle of about 45 degrees or less to your sides. Another way to put it is if someone is looking down at your upper body from above your arms should make an arrow, not a T.
- Stretch your arms again until you are back in the pike position of step 2.
One downside of a bodyweight exercise like pike pushups compared to weighted options is that they can become too easy relatively fast.
A no-fitness-equipment way to pike pushups more challenging is by putting your feet on an elevated surface like a chair. This will make the exercise harder on your shoulder and tricep muscles.
If that is still not challenging enough, you can also do this clean and press alternative while wearing a quality weighted vest if you have one available.
6. Upright rows
As the name implies the upright row is similar to a bent-over resistance training row but done while standing up straight. Take the following steps to do an upright row with a barbell:
- Load the barbell with the desired number of weight plates. Stand right in front of it with feet about shoulder width apart.
- Grab the barbell with an overhanded grip, your hand palms pointing back/down, with your hands at about shoulder width or slightly wider.
- Lift the barbell and stand up straight. Keep your spine straight during this initial lift. Let your arms with the barbell hang down for now.
- Raise the barbell straight upward in a controlled manner until your hands are at about shoulder height.
- Slowly lower the barbell back into the position of step 3.
Because of this change in position compared to the bent-over row, the upright row focuses on slightly different muscles which makes it more of a clean and press substitute.
More specifically, upright rows work your trapezius, deltoid, bicep, and forearm muscles. By training these, the part of clean and presses where you bring the barbell from hip height to shoulder height will become easier.
7. Front squats
The next clean and press alternative is a popular compound exercise. This time you need a barbell and a squat rack to be able to do the exercise.
Once you have these, take the following steps to do a front squat:
- Find a squat rack and place the barbell at about chest height. Add the desired number of weight plates. If there are any safety bars adjust them to the right height.
- Stand in front of the barbell, put the barbell on the front of your shoulders, and hold it there with your hands. Hold the barbell in position by letting it rest on the inside of your fingers. For this, you have to point your elbows forward and hand palms upward.
- Unrack the barbell and take a few steps back so that you have room to squat. Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
- Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height. You will likely have to bend forward for balance but keep your back in a straight line throughout the movement.
- Push yourself up again into starting position by stretching your legs.
- Rerack the barbell after your desired number of repetitions.
Clean and presses include a mini squat right before you shoulder press the weights up. Front squats can help you get used to the weight distribution and train similar muscles in this part of the exercise.
Additionally, front squats also work muscles like your glutes, quadriceps, calves, hamstrings, lower back, and erector spinae which play a big role in the initial deadlift movement.